Sally Flint

Book Review on Dawn French's Because of You

Dawn French's Because of You has got me back into reading.

Dawn French describes her book, Because of You as a love letter to her daughter, step-daughter and mother. She claims that the book dared her to write it.

In Because of You, Hope gives birth to a still born baby and goes on to steal the child of another woman, Anna, who had given birth the same hospital that night.  Hope raises the child Minnie as her own. When Minnie becomes pregnant at 17 it is discovered that she has a hereditary heart defect, inherited from her biological father, Julius. Hope tells her Minnnie the truth of her birth, before handing herself in to the police. It is then that events speed on to a dramatic conclusion.

The story,¬†Because of You¬†is split into short, sharp insightful chapters, where the reader either sees the events specifically from the character’s own viewpoint, or from the stance of the narrator, talking about the character. In this respect, Julius comes off worst. The chapters sign post clearly who and what aspect of the story is about to be explored. The story is written in¬† a no-nonsense concise manner and includes social and political commentary throughout.

The emotions explored in¬†Because of You¬†are vast and¬† intense. The events invite the reader to be drawn in and not only understand the story, but feel what the characters are feeling. This is quite a feat when the reader’s are asked to¬† frequently shift who their sympathy and empathy is aimed at.¬†¬†Because of You feels¬†like it ought not to be a book but to be rushed, but the reality is it is a book that is almost impossible not to race through. I think this is maybe because Dawn French uses dialogue quite extensively as a writing device. Usually linear-ish, though not always, the chapters lead purposefully toward the dramatic conclusion¬† of the story. I didn’t see the ending coming, but I feel I probably should have!¬†

The two couples the story is about are the real parents of Minnie, (who they named Florence) couldn’t be more different. Julius, is a first rate egotistical idiot politician; his wife, Anna is grieving and bereft, for almost the whole story and hates her husband. As she comes to terms with how much Julius disgusts her, the reader see her grow in strength.

Hope became pregnant to quiet Isaac, a student from Liberia. Hope has escaped her own fairly dysfunctional background in Bristol and loves her indpendent life, where she is a cleaner in a London hospital. Hope becomes involved with quiet Isaac. A somewhat allusive, figure, he is warm, kind and gentle, but returns to Liberia being unalbe to actively participate day to day in the deception of the abduction he was part of.. Hope devotes her life, soul and everything she has and is in raising Minnie.

Family is obviously the key theme explored in the story, but class, wealth, politics, honesty, duplicity, morality are all simmering at or just below the surface. For a text that is easy and quick to read and absorb, it is hugely powerful. Dawn French is able to show the complexity of any given topic. She is, I think, challenging all of us when we oversimplify and put things inot straightforward ‘right and wrong’ boxes.

Dawn French’s¬†Because of You¬†was longlisted for the 2021 Womens’ Prize for Fiction. I was thrilled for her. As a celebrity author she has more than earned her Sergeant stripes.¬†

Book Discussion Questions on Dawn French's Because of You

  • In what ways are Anna and Hope similar and different to one another?
  • If you were casting¬†Because of You¬†as a film who would you have play the main roles?¬†
  • What stereotypes does Dawn French encourage us to consider in¬†Because of You?
  • Discuss whether you think¬†Because of You¬†is a realistic story.
  • Throughout the text, Julius is presented as shallow, fickle and vain. Isaac, on the other hand is presented as almost etheral and full of goodness. To what extent do their actions, when stripped away of emotion, make you question these character profiles?
  • For whom do you feel the most sympathy and why?
  • If Dawn French wrote a sequel to¬†Because of You¬†what would happen in it?
  • Was Aunty Betty misguided to help Hope in prison? Why or why not?
  • Which character do you think is portrayed least effectively and most effectively in¬†Because of You. Explain the reasons for your viewpoint.
  • Who is Minnie’s ‘mum’?
  • How, if at all, is¬†adoption explored¬†in¬†the story¬†Because of You.?
  • What was your main ‘takeway for you from reading¬†Because of You?
  • Would Minnie have been the same person if she had been brought up with Julius and Anna?

Book Club on Dawn French's Because of You (If you haven't read the book!)

  • Hope gave her whole self to Minnie, but she never had the material comfort that living with her biological parents would have given her. What are the essential ingredients of¬†a good home life?
  • Hope’s secret was extreme, but lots of families have ‘lesser’ secrets. How do you think you would feel if you discovered something shocking about your childhood?
  • Do¬†you enjoy reading texts which challenges traditional concepts of protagonists and villains?
  • Hope received 18 years imprisonment for stealing a baby. If you haven’t read the book does this seem a fair sentence? If you have read the book do you agree with the 18 year sentence? Disucss the legal system and the extent to which emotion and heartbreak should be considered when forming laws.
  • Do you think “Because of You‘ is a positive or a negative statement?
  • What other books have you written by celebrity authors?¬†Why did you choose them? Did you enjoy them? What advantages and disadvantages do celebrity authors face?
  • What does it mean to be a mother? Is it different to being a mum? Discuss.
  • Discuss the nature v nurture argument in relation to parenting.

Personal Response to Dawn French's Because of You

I thought this was a really enjoyable read. It got me back into reading after too long a gap, where I hadn’t been able to concentrate. Friends have already used it as a bookclub text and loved it. There is a lot to discuss and each topic is evenly drawn and explored. The part I found most powerful was the letter Minnie wrote to her mother, where she says “I’m not from them, I’m from you.” It broke my heart just a little bit!

Dawn French is a particularly skilled letter writer. I’d like to ask her if letter writing features regularly in her real life, but I guess the opportunity to do so isn’t likely to arise!

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